After Jerry Brown mocked Senate President Darrell Steinberg last fall for pushing the latest “siren song of school reform,” the gov went on to tout local control as a better way than the current emphasis on student testing and teacher accountability. Here and elsewhere, I’ve pointed out the obvious — in effect, if not in words, what Brown wants is tantamount to a return to the old days of how public education operated. Yo, Jerry: K-12 schools way back when were so dysfunctional that it triggered the broad education reform movement that you now consider a trendy failure, including the misfire that is No Child Left Behind. I’ve been waiting …. and waiting … and waiting … for someone else in the media to figure this out. Now someone has, and lordy lordy, it’s former Sac Bee editorial page editor Peter Schrag, one of the most respected establishment voices on education.
Brown now talks blithely about weighted school funding and increased local control. But it’s a century of local (and/or state) control, always responsive to electoral majorities, which brought the educational mess the nation finds itself in now.
This is why I wrote what I wrote in December. Education is one of the biggest issues in California, yet Jerry — while billing himself as the smartest guy in the room — has staked out a fundamentally incoherent stand:
The governor pairs this broad skepticism of reform efforts with a denunciation of federal officials such as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for not having “a trust or even a belief in local schools” — as if school reform will ever percolate up from districts in which teachers unions are almost always the most powerful force and use their clout to maximize teacher compensation and jobs protection.
So, to sum up, Brown knows schools need to improve. (Good.) But he is suspicious of reformers and appears to doubt sweeping reforms based on broad policy changes could even work. (Uh-oh.) And he thinks local school districts could innovate their way to success if given the chance. (Oh, no!)
This is a perfect recipe for inertia, for the governor has tied himself up in knots.
Why on Earth would alleged smart guy Jerry Brown think local control would work any better now than it did in the 1980s and 1990s? If anything, the teachers unions in California are even more powerful then they were then.
Illustrating this truth: The Los Angeles Times’ stories in the past 18 months that finally, finally, FINALLY followed up on Lance Izumi‘s long-ago reporting that it was almost impossible to fire teachers in LAUSD.
Back to alleged smart guv Jerry Brown:
If Brown thinks there are no slam-dunk-obvious ideas for reform — just flashy, flavor-of-the-week ideas — that is ridiculous. Here are two:
1) There’s not a large, successful industry in the world that pays its most important employees primarily based on seniority. Nor is there such an industry that ignores which jobs are most important in favor of a one-size-fits-all pay structure. If kindergarten teachers can have such a profound long-term effect on students’ lives, as research suggests, then why on Earth are they paid the same as high-school gym teachers?
2) It’s 2011, for God’s sake, not the 19th century. Why on Earth is our school year based on the presumption that we need to have our kids out of classrooms all summer to help get the harvest out?
These are not “siren songs.” They are obvious reforms. But as long as Brown sees school reform as an oxymoron, he’ll never be able to rouse himself to take on the status quo. The appalling result of his dithering will be a California education system that continues to value the interests of school employees over students. Hip hip hooray.
I was looking at a standard California collective bargaining agreement for school districts the other day. Teachers in the Golden State, among the highest-paid in the nation, work only 184 days a year, not the 240 or so the rest of us do.
Why? Really, why?
Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
Don’t anyone dare tell me this policy is in place because it makes sense for students and for public education.
That’s from MSN-Encarta from 2011.